On May 31, 2018, I spoke at the GigSe conference in Miami on the topic of Sports Betting after the recent Supreme Court ruling invalidating PASPA. My comments reflected the same position that I made in my last blog post, that the Wire Act still appeared to prohibit Sports betting, even from states where such gambling is legal to states where such gambling is legal. During the Question and Answer period, one person asked me if I was familiar with Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson’s remarks that because PASPA was gone, that meant that Sports Betting among states could be legalized, and therefore the Wire Act would no longer apply. I advised that I had not heard that Olson had made these remarks, but that I’d check.
I cannot find anywhere that Olson has flatly come out and said that the Wire Act doesn’t apply any longer. I have located articles where he has questioned whether the Wire Act still applies. I have reviewed the literature on this, and I have reached several conclusions. These conclusions are my current opinion, are based upon my own knowledge and the opinions that I have read from or discussed with other experts in the field. They are still preliminary, and are subject to change, as I have not researched this area as thoroughly as I would if I was representing a client in this area. With all of those caveats, here is my opinion.
The majority of the opinions from people that I respect seem to range between saying that the Wire Act still applies to saying that the Wire Act may still apply, but that they have some questions. The majority seem to believe that the “safe harbor” section of the Wire Act would permit sharing of information from a state where sports betting is legal to a state where sports betting is legal, although it would not permit the actual betting over the internet, even if sports betting is legal in that state.
I have largely ignored the many articles written by non-lawyers, who appear to believe that if they want it to be legal, it must be legal, or whose major source of information is what they read in a general purpose newspaper. In reading articles, papers, and presentations written by attorneys, the predominant position seems to be “that’s a good question.”, or “The Wire Act currently seems to prohibit it, but it would require litigation or a ruling from the USDOJ to conclusively respond”, or some variation thereof.
Having now reviewed the literature, I slightly amend my prior position, from saying “it currently appears to me that the clear wording of the Wire Act and the December 2011 DOJ memo both, at a minimum, continue to prohibit internet wagering on sports betting” to saying that that “the clear wording of the Wire Act and the December 2011 DOJ memo both, at a minimum, appear to continue to prohibit internet wagering on sports betting but it would require litigation or a ruling from the USDOJ to conclusively respond”.
The United States Supreme Court has ended the State of New Jersey’s current hope for sports betting, at least for now. The Supreme Court denied certiorari, and refused to hear an appeal from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which had upheld a lower court judge who ruled against the State. This ruling was expected by most experienced appellate attorneys. The Supreme Court rules against even hearing most appeals where there are not conflicting opinions from different Circuit Courts of Appeal, and there were not conflicting rulings here. By refusing to hear the appeal, the Supreme Court offered no opinion on the underlying merits of the lower court rulings (nor do I).
In 1992, the United States Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) which prohibited sports wagering, but grandfathered in four states that had some form of sports wagering. Nevada had full sports wagering, while Delaware, Montana, and Oregon had certain limited sports wagering. New Jersey was given one year to opt in to sports wagering, but failed to do so at the time. In 2011, the voters of New Jersey approved a referendum placed on the ballot by the Legislature calling for approval of sports wagering. In 2012, Governor Chris Christie signed legislation permitting sports wagering in New Jersey. The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA filed suit against New Jersey, alleging that the 2012 law violated PASPA. The Trial Court Judge ruled against New Jersey, and by a 2-1 vote the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Trial Judge.
State Legislators from New Jersey have pledged to continue the fight for sports betting by other methods, which may include asking the Federal Government not to enforce PASPA, asking Congress to amend PASPA, or trying to further change New Jersey laws in a way that could bring sports wagering to New Jersey in a way that would be consistent with PASPA.